Recently, I keep being asked for tips on what cool things to do in London. I decided to make a list to share with all of you. As I know many of you are travelling on low to no budget, I’ve only included free or cheap activities you may not read about in a travel guide.
#1 Sky Garden – Free
You want to see the city from up high? Then Sky Garden is the perfect place. This lovely indoor garden atop a skyscraper has high glass walls around the entire building and a balcony. On a clear day, you get a far-reaching view over the city.
#2 South Bank
The South Bank is one of my favourite places in London. It’s the perfect place to take a stroll from the London Eye down to Tower Bridge. The riverside path allows for a great view of many sights of the City and takes you past many sights directly. From the Tate, the front of Somerset House to the Millennium Bridge, you won’t know which way to look first.
#3 The Globe – £5
If you enjoy theatre, you need to see Shakespeare’s Globe. There’s no better way to experience a play in an Elizabethan atmosphere. The best places, in my opinion, are the groundlings. Standing for the entire duration of the play may sound daunting but you get to see the action up close as you’re much closer to the stage than in a modern-day theatre. You don’t even have to like Shakespeare. They also show a variety of plays by new writers.
If you feel like seeing even more modern plays and also traditional ones, check out the National Theatre. Sometimes you’re lucky, especially if you book in advance, and can get £12 tickets. If you can afford a ticket a little more expensive, I would definitely recommend it as I really enjoyed all National Theatre productions I’ve seen so far.
#4 Royal Parks – free
Anyone who knows Sam and me knows how much we love the parks in London. Sure, part of the reason, at least for me, is because I’m used to lots of nature, having grown up in the countryside. But there’s also lots of exciting things to see. Each park has its own charm. Being proud alumni of Kingston University, we adore the nearby Richmond Park with its lovely lakes, Bushy Park with its stretches of forest and Hampton Court, with its lovely view of the Palace. In the winter months, you can even visit the Palace gardens for free. A bit more crowed but another favourite is also Kensington Gardens, with the iconic Peter Pan statue. That’s one of the benefits of wandering around London. If you need a break from the hectic city life you’re usually never far away from the next park. Just be careful where you are going, as most of these parks are so vast it’s easy to get lost.
Soho, the self-proclaimed alternative and artsy neighbourhood in the heart of London. Although that title may have arguably travelled further east to places like Shoreditch, Soho retains its charm. Next to little boutiques, you will find plenty of bars and curiously many sex shops. Yumchaa is one of my favourite places there to stop for tea. It’s also the centre of the queer community in London, being home to some of the most popular clubs.
Although it’s not a secret that London is famous for its many markets, it’s still worth checking them out. Go to Borough Market for food and delicacies. Pay a visit to Brick Lane Market if you are looking for some designer fashion or international cuisine. Spitalfields Market offers great finds for anyone looking for vintage trinkets. Yet another market can be found in Camden Town. This one is famous for the alternative shops along the little alleys.
#7 Museum of London – Free
The Museum of London may not be as famous as the British Museum but it’s still a great rainy day alternative. You can move through time periods chronologically as you walk through the rooms at your own pace. The time travel takes you from the earliest finds, over a replica of Victorian streets and Vauxhall gardens up to a changing modern-day exhibition.
#8 British Library – Free
The British Library – an obvious destination for any book lovers. But what you might not have known that in the free part of the exhibition you get to see a wide range of interesting things. Of course, there are important documents like several Shakespeare folios, Jane Austen’s first writing attempts and a changing themed exhibition. But there are also all kinds of curiosities. From a hand-written prayer book by Queen Elizabeth I, over letters by Leonardo da Vinci, to the first sketch of the lyrics to the Beatles’ famous Yesterday, you will not be disappointed.
#9 Visit the TARDIS – Free
If you are a Doctor Who fan, hop off the tube at Earls Court. Just around the corner you’ll spot the TARDIS. You can’t go in to see if it’s truly bigger on the inside but it’s worth a picture.
#10 Greenwich – Free
You may recognize this building as backdrop of several films, like Les Miserable. Close by you will find the Queens House and The Maritime Museum, both of which offer free exhibitions. You can also take the small hike up to the Royal Observatory. While it costs money to go inside, you can take a picture next to the prime meridian for free. While you are there in the car park, also enjoy the amazing view over London.
On the way back, there is also yet another market, where you can get delicious food. Bonus recommendation: take the ferry back to the city. It’s faster and with the Oyster card costs about the same as the tube journey. Not to mention that it’s the cheapest way to get a river cruise past all the sights.
#11 Day Trips
As exciting as London is, it’s also in a great location to do day trips to the surrounding area. Popular destinations are beach towns like Brighton. But North of the city you’ll also find the sleepy town of St. Albans. With its charming small-town feeling, it makes for a great escape whenever the city feels too crowded. If you enjoy history, you’ll be pleased by the many historical attractions you can see for free, from the famous Cathedral to ancient Roman ruins.